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Bronze Statue in Dublin Warmly Embraces a Beloved Irish Legend

By Bob Ruegsegger

St. Andrew’s Church on Suffolk Street

St. Andrew’s Church on Suffolk Street. Dublin

In the shadow of St. Andrew’s Church on Suffolk Street in Dublin’s Georgian
Quarter, a statue of a shapely young woman dressed in 17th-century fashion
stands beside a bronze cart loaded with baskets of shellfish – cockles and mussels.
Anyone even remotely familiar with Irish culture and song would
immediately recognize the woman depicted by the bonze effigy as Molly Malone
who has been immortalized in the tragic Irish ballad “Cockles and Mussels.”

In Dublin fair city where the girls are so pretty
I first set me eyes on sweet Molly Malone

She wheeled her wheelbarrow through streets broad and narrow

Crying “Cockles and Mussels Alive Alive-o.”

“Molly Malone” – also known as “Cockles and Mussels” – has become
recognized as the unofficial anthem of the City of Dublin.

Molly Malone's Cockles and Mussels.

Molly Malone’s Cockles and Mussels.

“Molly” is a pet name for Mary or Margaret. It is an appellation of Irish
origin. It means “Star of the Sea.“ While this forename began as a diminutive for
Mary, it has been used since the Middle Ages as a name of its own.
The Molly Malone statue was unveiled on Grafton Street by Lord Mayor of
Dublin Ben Briscoe for the Dublin Millennium celebration in 1988. On June 13,
1988, Briscoe officially proclaimed Molly Malone Day.
The statue and wheelbarrow were relocated to the St. Andrew’s Church site
in 2013 to allow for the construction of the Luas Cross City rail project.
Molly Malone was a fishmonger by trade. By day, she pushed her
wheelbarrow through the streets – “broad and narrow” – of Dublin and hawked
her wares. Apparently, selling seafood was a Malone family tradition, according to
the well-known song lyrics.

She was a fishmonger but sure ‘twas no wonder
For so were her father and mother before

They both wheeled their barrows through streets broad and narrow

Crying “Cockles and mussels alive alive-o.”

By night, in order to make ends meet in 17th century Dublin, Molly Malone
may have plied another trade – as a lady of the evening.

Jeanne Patricia Rynhart, a gifted Dublin-born sculptor.

Jeanne Patricia Rynhart, a gifted Dublin-born sculptor. (17 March 1946 – 9 June 2020)

The Molly Malone statue was commissioned by the Jurys Hotel Group and
designed by the late Jeanne Patricia Rynhart, a gifted Dublin-born sculptor.
From the time it was initially undraped, the Molly Malone sculpture was a
controversial work of art, at least locally. Some regarded the busty figure’s low-
cut dress as too revealing. Rynhart defended the figure’s costume as appropriate
for women of the 17th century.
Disapproving Dublin critics have dubbed the bronze tribute to Molly
Malone as “The Tart with a Cart” and “The Trollop with Scallops.”

She died of a fever and no one could save her
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone

But her ghost wheels her barrow through streets broad and narrow

Crying “Cockles and Mussels alive alive-o”

While “Molly Malone” has been promoted as an Irish folk song, the song
and lyrics were initially published – as far as is known – in the USA in 1876 by
Joseph B. Geoghegan. Geoghegan’s adaptation was likely derived from an older
Irish folk ballad.
The “melody and tragicomic lyrics” of this song upheld as a traditional Irish
ballad make it “more akin” to music-hall style tunes that were popular in Britain
during the Victorian period according to folk music experts. In fact, a version of
the song ascribed to James Yorkston, a Scottish composer, was published in 1784
in London.
A version – with more risqué lyrics – was also published in an 18th century
book, Apollo’s Medley, printed in 1790. The lyrics have Molly living in Howth, a
seaside fishing village, north of Dublin.

Howth Seaside Fishing Village outside Dublin.

Howth Seaside Fishing Village outside Dublin.

This version’s bawdy lyrics suggest that
this Irish lass worked as both a street vendor and a prostitute.
While there have been a great number of Molly Malones since Geoghegan’s
song was published, historians have been unable to confirm that the Molly

Malone of Irish ballad fame was based upon a specific woman who lived in Dublin
during the 17th century. Sadly, there is no firm evidence that the Irish heroine
celebrated in the popular ballad ever really existed.
Nevertheless, Ireland and Dublin – and the rest of the world – have lovingly
embraced this Irish lass wholeheartedly. Molly Malone has – whether she was
historical or fictional – become an urban legend, a romantic figure who is beloved
in Irish folklore.

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